Over this last weekend (Saturday and Sunday) UVP organized and oversaw a two-day Eye Health and Vision Disability training, run by Sightsavers International. We trained one individual from each of our Healthy Villages, who is henceforth the Village Eye Care Specialist. Each of these individuals were chosen by the village’s political, religious, and opinion leaders at a meeting held earlier by Abdul. Each of these individuals was also a member of (or chair of) the Village Health Team, which we took as a positive sign – obviously, our VHTs are indeed made up of the most health-active members of the community!
The training began about 9am each day, and lasted until around 3pm. We gave each trainee the money for their transport to and from the office, and we catered for tea and lunch at the office. Otherwise, the trainees were volunteering their time, purely in hopes of bettering the health of their community!
Here are some of the topics covered during this workshop:
- Prevention of eye problems (preventative prenatal care, household health and sanitation measures, etc.)
- Causes, symptoms and details of all the common village eye problems
- Treatment available for various eye problems, and where to find such treatment (e.g. which health centers can treat what, available surgical camps in various sub-districts)
- Contact numbers for key individuals (SSI contact, UVP contacts, health center contacts, etc.)
- More on specific sanitation measures to be taken at a household level
- Counseling systems for the blind
- The increased use of other senses utilized by blind people
- How to help a blind villager to learn to do things by themselves (e.g. take a shower, bath, do washing, go to the latrine, etc.), by utilizing other senses and learning mobilization strategies (e.g. knowing where you are by the smell of flowers, by the angle of sunshine hitting your face, by counting steps from one area to another)
- How to counsel a fellow-villager who has recently gone blind, making her understand that the blind can be useful, productive members of society (here, Abdul – the SSI trainer – used himself as an example, for he himself is wholly blind)
- The history of rehabilitation systems in Uganda (in the past, the blind were mostly institutionalized, making them useless and very unhappy; now the government has certain schools for the blind, but otherwise the blind are encouraged to act as normal members of society)
- Institutional measures that can be taken to help people with disabilities (e.g. slopes next to stairs, for people with wheelchairs)
- Income generating activities which can be easily done by people with disabilities (e.g. the lame are still able to dig their gardens, the blind can keep poultry, etc.)
The most exciting part of Day Two was the actually mobility training that Abdul did, where the whole group practiced (for about 3 hours) moving about with a cane, counting steps or feeling one’s way from place to place. During the second half of this training, Abdul actually blind-folded his students, and they did amazingly well moving about the garden using his strategies! We even set up obstacle courses for them, with objects representing holes in the ground, large obstacles they had to feel and then safely move around, etc. They also had to do a special ‘using to the latrine’ obstacle course, which everyone found vastly amusing. In general, the entire practical training was a lot of fun, and it was obvious that the trainees not only learned a great deal, but had a great time doing it.
At the end of the training, we gave each participant a certificate, labeling them as the Village Eye Care and Vision Disability Specialist. Julius (UVP staff), told them,
I receive my first diploma, my professor and advisor handed it to me saying, ‘The paper is useless, Julius. It is what you do with this knowledge in the real world which shall count.’ So for you, too, this paper is nothing important, but your actions when you go back to the village, your application of this knowledge to help the blind or other disabled neighbors – that is so important. That is what will make a difference.
The next step of our eye program – These Village Eye Specialists will be returning home to examine all villagers with eye problems and send them to the proper health facility to be screened. (UVP will pay for transportation costs.) After everyone has been properly examined, treated, and advised, Abdul will be coming back into each village to do mobility training with the visually impaired. Then, we shall transport all individuals whose condition allows for corrective surgery a nearby hospital, where they shall be operated on by Dr. Othieno, from Sightsavers International.
We will let you know of our progress as it goes!